Some downtown Parkville business owners are embroiled in the controversy surrounding a 300-acre development at Interstate 435 and Missouri 45.
The Parkville Board of Aldermen unanimously cast final votes Tuesday night to allow much of the residential, commercial and retail development amid allegations from some downtown Parkville business owners that they have been pressured to support the development.
The alleged pressure occurred when some downtown business leaders said they were asked to remove from their property a sign that reads, “Keep Parkville Beautiful.” The sign is the creation of members of Citizens for a Better Parkville, a Political Action Committee (PAC) opposed to the development for numerous reasons, including their belief plans are too dense (too many buildings in too little space), with little green space and not enough barriers between buildings.
The group also faults city leaders for the process by which the development was discussed and reviewed. They claim that emails subpoenaed by the PAC’s attorney prove business leaders discussed the matter privately with Brian Mertz, of Parkville Development, months before the issue was made public, is an alleged violation of Missouri’s Sunshine Law, designed to protect and promote governmental transparency.
While some downtown business owners said they felt pressured by a representative of Main Street Parkville, an association of business owners, to remove the “Keep Parkville Beautiful” signs, others complained they did not initially know the sign’s ties to the PAC. Some also said they did not understand that they were making a politically-charged statement when they placed the placards on their property.
Theresa Bentley, who, with her husband owns Bentley’s Guitar Studios, said an employee had placed the sign in the business window not knowing that it carried political implications. She said she and her husband have decided to avoid any political statements or signage with the desire that patrons will have “a happy shopping experience and not be barraged by politics. We get enough of that,” she said during a telephone interview.
Bentley said the issue came to light when she learned a representative of the PAC had taken a photo of the sign on her business property and posted it on the PAC’s website. She called a Citizens for a Better Parkville member to complain she was not first asked for permission. She also requested the photo’s removal and the PAC willingly complied, she said.
Bentley added she is bothered by Parkville’s current political atmosphere. “It’s starting to sound like there’s some maliciousness,” she said.
Tom Hutsler, who owns and operates La Bottega, an antique and vintage mall, said Kelly Putnam, executive director of Main Street Parkville Association, asked him last week to remove the sign on his business property because its message “is not good for Parkville.”
He said Putnam also told him that the PAC was “trash talking city officials and Main Street businesses.”
Putnam said while she spoke with a few business owners, she did so only to explain that the signs were from Citizens for a Better Parkville.
“My actions that day were solely to communicate with a few members of our organization regarding the sign displayed in their business and that by displaying the sign they were representing ‘Citizens for a Better Parkville’ group,” Putnam said in an emailed statement.
Putnam said she further suggested business owners examine the group’s Facebook page to learn more.
Hutsler said he thought Mayor Nan Johnston had asked Putnam to speak with businesses. But Johnston denied any involvement.
“I most certainly did not direct Kelly Putnam to have the business owners take down the signs,” Johnston said via an emailed statement.
She added that Main Street Parkville Association is not operated by the city and Putnam reports to an independent board of directors elected by Parkville business owners.
An emailed statement from Citizens for a Better Parkville said the group was disappointed to learn of the alleged attempts to remove their signs from Parkville storefronts. In addition, the statement reads, if the association “did this during regular business hours in which they were being compensated as a paid employee…there would seem to be a First Amendment implication of attempting to restrict free speech,” according to the email.
Allan Moore, who owns Car Counselors, another downtown business, said any change that brings more residents will improve his business.
But Moore said he never heard about the signs until a [Landmark reporter] contacted him to ask if his business had a sign posted. He said the development is a sign of growth and change.
“When I moved out here (during the 1980s), Parkville was a two-lane road with an Apple Market and downtown was like tumbleweeds,” he said, and added, “I’m all for development and understand a guy (developer Brian Mertz) has got to make a dollar.”